A 49-year-old Kahului man who impersonated an FBI agent and used the ruse to gain access to an online account of a female minor and to steal and cash a check for $1,000 was sentenced Tuesday in federal court to 3 years in prison by U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright.
Eric Wayne Fernandez was charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer and with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to three years on the impersonation charge and 3 years on the firearms charge, to be served concurrently at the Federal Detention Center on Oahu, said Michael Song, assistant U.S. attorney.
Song called the sentence fair but also expressed concern in an interview Wednesday afternoon that Fernandez "really sets back law enforcement."
"His actions not only affected those close to him but also other, real law enforcement officers because the community began to question law enforcement and if they really were who they really said they were," Song said at the sentencing.
He noted that a victim of Fernandez's ruse said that she will be asking for two badges and a phone number of a supervisor when dealing with law enforcement in the future.
As the prosecutor in the case, Song said that he even had to work through the victim's mistrust of law enforcement after being burned by Fernandez.
"I think it affected her peace of mind," he said.
According to court documents, Fernandez's wife, who believed that her husband was with the FBI, mentioned to him that a teenage daughter of one of their friends had sent a nude picture of herself to a teenage boy over the Internet.
On April 5, Fernandez, wearing an FBI-labeled shirt and an FBI badge and carrying a gun, went to the home of the teenage girl and told the family that he was there to address the sending of the inappropriate picture over the Internet and how that was a federal offense, court documents said.
He told the girl's parents that he would not open a case, which would keep their daughter out of trouble. The parents gave Fernandez a computer user name and password and allowed him to speak with their daughter alone without their supervision, according to court records.
Later, Fernandez was allowed into the victim's home unsupervised under the guise that it was part of his investigation. It was discovered that two checks written for $1,000 were made out to Fernandez and that one had been cashed. Fernandez was identified on surveillance video as the person cashing the check, court records said.
Maui police received consent to search Fernandez's home and found a pistol, ammunition, FBI logo polo shirts, an FBI raid jacket, two FBI badges and FBI business cards with Fernandez's name on them.
He was arrested. During an interview with law enforcement, Fernandez admitted to the impersonation and interviewing the teenager unsupervised and to wearing an airsoft pistol, not capable of firing real bullets, court records said.
He also said that he was a convicted felon, who served 13 months in Folsom Prison in California for burglary.
"In a nutshell, Mr. Fernandez is a burglar," Song told the court. "It seems like he has been living a fantasy life. He has been conning his family, friends and even his wife. And you really wouldn't expect this from a grown man."
"The lies upon lies that he would tell everyone about his job just really shows that there is a mental issue that Mr. Fernandez needs to address, and it seems that the motivating factor for this facade was simply greed," Song continued, while also noting the defendant's cooperation with law enforcement and show of remorse.
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.